I went to my first wedding — or at least the first of which I have any recollection — in 1983. It was a lavish event attended by throngs of well-heeled guests clad in the finest fashions of the day. And, oh, how the grand old church gleamed! The floor of her center aisle covered in rose petals, tossed by a cherub-esque flower girl. The altar illuminated by soft, yet brilliant multicolored hues refracted through stately stained-glass windows. The service was solemn and reverent, the congregation awestruck in the presence of, presumably, both God and love. At family gatherings for years afterward, they spoke fondly about the bounty of the food that night, at the reception, in the grandest of old Rhode Island halls. And who could forget the handsome young ring bearer, who guarded his precious cargo with noble reserve?
Of course, the day’s splendor was no match for the bride herself. My Aunt Cheryl was radiant that day, the living picture of classic Italian beauty.
That’s how I remember it, anyway. But then, I was 5.
In reality, it was a much humbler affair. Guests were dressed in suits from JCPenney or Apex. The ceremony took place in the modest Congregational church at the end of my grandfather’s street in a working-class neighborhood in East Providence. I’m not even sure there was a reception.
Looking at an old, grainy picture of the wedding party, my aunt is still beautiful. Maybe not quite Claudia Cardinale, but she’s young and happy and, yes, radiant. My Uncle Chris, on the other hand, is kinda goofy looking, as are his shaggy groomsmen buddies. But he’s young and happy, too. Our noble ring bearer stands at attention, tiny chest puffed with self-importance beneath a snazzy white tux. And a bowl haircut. (Thanks, Mom.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about that wedding lately, in part because my cousin, Ian — Chris and Cheryl’s son — is getting married this summer. Come to think of it, his wedding will be the first time I’ll see Aunt Cheryl since she and Chris divorced some 10 years ago.
But I’ve also been thinking recently about weddings in general. Ian’s will be the second of seven my girlfriend and I are attending this summer, and one of nine to which we’ve been invited. Put another way, there are 11 weekends between our first and last weddings of the summer. We will be home for four of them. Fewer if you include our vacation, which we will sorely require to recuperate from “airline” chicken and dancing the Electric Slide. Not to mention the rigors of, you know, work, which we now need in order to afford to go to weddings.
Put still another way, I had to decline an invitation to a friend’s bachelor party because it’s the only weekend we’ll not be, er, engaged in wedding activities for the entire month of July. It’s cool, though, ’cause I’ll see him two weeks later. At his wedding.
I should have seen this coming. From the time you hit your mid-twenties, a smattering of weddings each summer becomes par for the course. And in small doses, they’re usually something to look forward to.
For example, two years ago we spent several days in Chicago for a cousin’s wedding. We had a great time, and caught a Cubs game — which they had the courtesy to win. The year before that, we flew to Omaha for a friend’s wedding that was attended by a cadre of indie-rock stars from Saddle Creek, that city’s indie record label. Killer. That same summer, there was the huge wedding in a Manhattan penthouse with a bunch of old high school friends. Couldn’t have been better.
Hell, even the lousy weddings often make for good stories. Like the time we got stuck in Hartford for eight hours on a Sunday. After a healthy amount of, ahem, weddingly revelry, we decided last minute to get a hotel room. We left our car (and bags) in a nearby parking garage for the night. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that — like everything else in America’s Filing Cabinet, apparently — the garage would be closed on Sunday. Desperately hungover, we were left to wander a deserted downtown Hartford for hours. In our wedding clothes. In the rain. It was hell on Earth at the time, but pretty funny in retrospect.
But eventually — early thirties, in my case — a person’s wedding cycle reaches terminal velocity. It is simply incredible to consider the number of people I know getting married this summer. And it’s frightening to realize, especially if you come from a large family or know a lot of people, that there are still many more to come. And what happens when they start getting divorced, which, according to statistics, three or four of this summer’s crop likely will? A cynic could wonder if it makes any sense to go to weddings at all. Or at least to ask for a refund on wedding gifts should the couple split up.
Throughout the daunting process of planning to attend all these weddings, I’ve found myself searching for some sort of profound sentiment to justify — to my girlfriend and myself — the profound amount of time involved, and the equally profound expense. I keep coming up empty.
That is, until I look at that picture from my first wedding. A wedding that seems utterly pedestrian compared to the increasingly common modern extravaganzas. (Note to whoever started the couple-enters-reception-to-ironic-music-like-they-were-rock/sports-stars phenomenon: Screw you.)
What’s more, it is a picture of a wedding for a marriage that ultimately failed. But — as cheesy as this will undoubtedly sound — I still look at that picture and see two people on the happiest day of their lives. And I wonder how I can possibly justify not attending the two weddings we’re going to miss this summer.